Leon Alexander, president of Eurisko
Leon Alexander, president of Eurisko

Our brains are constantly busy collecting and filtering information. Some bits of information will make it into long-term memory, but most will become extraneous clutter, dispensed into oblivion.


Effective design, education, marketing, strategies and initiatives will ensure that consumers do not view our salons as the equivalent  of the hotel room key. It is important to understand how customers think and act. If we don't know how customers think, how can we be expected to sell to them or give them experiences? Ethnology tells us how customers think; Retail Anthropology tells us how customers act; and Environmental Psychology tells us how customers think and act, within a specific environment. 



Let's start with Neuromarketing, which is a combination of marketing and science. It is the window into the human mind, the subconscious thoughts, feelings and desires that drive our purchasing decisions. 


The medial prefrontal cortex is a portion of the brain responsible for higher thinking and the ventral putamen is a region of the brain that's stimulated when we find things appealing. These two areas of the brain are in a tug-of-war between emotional and rational thinking. During that mini-second of grappling and indecision, the emotions rise up like mutinous soldiers to override consumer's rational preferences. All positive associations with a product, the ineluctable, emotional feelings have beat back their rational choice, because emotions are a way in which our brains encode things of value. Think Apple, Harley Davidson, Starbucks.


Psychologists asked a group of students to choose between a pair of Amazon.com gift vouchers. If they picked the first, which was a $15 gift voucher, they could use it at once. But if they were willing to wait two weeks, they would get a $20 gift certificate. Brain scans revealed that both options triggered activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that generates emotion. Of course, the ration mind knew the $20 offer was logically a better deal. But, guess what—their emotions won out, and most took the $15 immediate gift cards. We have an opportunity to maximize the potential of a consumer's visit when she is in the salon. Impulse buying should be a major part of a salon's retail strategy.


I'll Have What She's Having

Mirror neurons are responsible for why we often imitate other people's behavior. When other people whisper, we tend to lower our own voices. Mirror neurons explain why we often smile when we see someone who is happy, or wince when we see someone who is in pain. 


Yawn. Are you you yawning now, or are you feeling the initial stirrings of a yawn? Not because you are bored, but simply because your read the word, yawn. Mirror neurons become activated not only when we are observing other people's behavior—they even fire when we read about someone performing it. 


If I simply write the words, "nails scratching on a chalkboard" or "sucking a lemon" or "giant, hairy, black spider," the chance are that you will recoil, wince and squirm while reading them. Your mind visualized the painful sound or the furry legs edging along your calf. Those are your mirror neurons at work. That's how consumers' behavior is affected by what they see, read and experience in our salons.


Mirror neurons don't work alone. Often they work in tandem with dopamine, one of the brain's pleasure chemicals. Dopamine is one of the most addictive substances known to man, and its seductive effects drive purchasing decisions. When you see that new camera or those flashy diamond earrings, dopamine subtly flushes the brain with pleasure, and before you know it, you've signed that credit card slip. It takes as little as 2.5 seconds to make a purchasing decision. A few minutes later, as you exit the store bag in hand, the euphoric feelings caused by the dopamine recede, and sometimes you wonder if you made the right decision.


We have all heard the term "retail therapy." All scientific indicators point to it making us happier in the short term. That dose of happiness can be attributed to dopamine; the brain's flush of reward, pleasure and well-being. When we first decide to buy something, the bran cells that release dopamine secrete a burst of good feeling, and this dopamine rush fuels our instinct to keep shopping even when our rational minds tell us we have had enough. 


The future of advertising isn't smoke and mirrors—it's mirror neurons!


Subliminal Messaging

Generally speaking, subliminal messages are defined as visual, auditory or any other sensory messages that register just below our level of conscious perception and can be detected only by the subconscious mind. Approximately 95 percent of cognition occurs below the awareness in the shadows of the mind, while 5 percent occurs within the individual's conscious awareness. Retailers and service providers have to appeal to both the conscious and subconscious minds of the consumer. 


Subliminal messaging has been shown to influence how much a consumer is willing to pay for a product or service. Unconscious emotions (smiling faces) have an effect on consumers to buy more or to make a purchase.


Silk Cut, a British tobacco brand, positioned its logo against a background of purple silk in every ad they ran. When the advertising ban on tobacco came into effect and the logo was no longer permitted on ads and billboards, the company simply created highway billboards that didn't say a word about Silk Cut, but merely showed swaths of purple silk. Shortly after, a study showed 98 percent of consumers identified those billboards with having something to do with Silk Cut. In other words, manufacturers' efforts to link innocent images with smoking in our subconscious minds have paid off big time.



Buying a product is more often a ritualized behavior than a conscious decision. Do those anti-wrinkle potions that beckon women and some men actually work? Many female consumers admit that anti-wrinkle creams are pointless, but every three months, they'll still clamber to the local pharmacy to pick up the latest miracle balm. The one with the newest, sexiest, most complex-sounding formula. Why? Simply because it's a ritual they, their mothers and their grandmothers before them have always followed.


In an increasingly standardized, sterilized, homogenous world, rituals help us differentiate one brand from another. Once we have found a ritual or brand, there is a lot of comfort in having a particular blend of coffee every morning, a signature shampoo with a familiar smell, or a favorite make of running sneaker we buy.


The Power of Somatic Markers

The Greek philosopher Socrates once told his student to imagine the mind as a block of wax "on which we stamp what we perceive or conceive." Whatever is impressed on the wax, we remember and know, provided the image remains in the wax, but "whatever is obliterated or cannot be impressed, we forget and do not know." A metaphor is suggestive and widespread that we still say that an experience "made a good impression."


Imagine as a child we touch a hot pot on the stove and burn the tips of our fingers. Assuming our fingertips weren't too badly burned, a half hour later we're back playing. The tenderness of your fingertips will vanish in a few days, but our minds aren't that lenient. They won't forget what happened. Subconsciously, the neurons in our brains have just assembled an equation linking together the concepts of oven and hot and fingertips and pain. 


In sum, the chain-link of concepts and body parts are what is called a somatic marker--a kind of bookmark in our brain. These markers serve to connect an experience or emotion with a specific, required reaction. The same cognitive shortcuts are what underlie most of our buying decisions or whether we return to a salon to get a service. Every day we manufacture new somatic markers. Without them, we would not be able to make any decisions.



Unilever was launching a shampoo in Asia when an employee wrote on the label "contains the X9 factor." The mistake went undetected by the company and soon millions of bottles of the shampoo were shipped to stores. It would have cost too much to recall the shampoo, so Unilever simply let it be. Six months later, when the company reprinted the label, they left out the reference to the non-existent X9 factor. To the company's surprise, they soon received a deluge of outraged mail from their customers. None of the customers had any idea what the X9 factor was, but many claimed that the shampoo wasn't working anymore and their hair had lost its luster. It just goes to show the more mystery and intrigue a brand can cultivate, the more likely it will appeal to us.


Selling to Our Senses

Visual images are far more effective, and more memorable, when they are coupled with another sense. Imagine viewing a fish dinner along with the slightest whiff of lemon, perhaps evoking the summer spend grilling fresh fish on the beach. That's because the sight and smell of the product were congruent—a perfect collaboration between eyes and nose. 


The same principle should apply to both sight and smell when the consumer enters a salon. 


The most recognized smell in the world is Johnson's Baby Powder. Yet practically nobody remembers the Johnson & Johnson logo. Of all the senses, smell is the most primal. With all other senses, we think before we respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think.


Color Psychology

When asked the importance of buying products, 84.7 percent of consumers claimed that color amounted to more than half the criterion they consider when choosing a location or a brand. Color energies affect our brain. Neurotransmitters in the eye transmit information about light to the brain and release a hormone that affects our moods, mental clarity and energy level. 


Brown is conducive to hunger. That's why trays at McDonald's are all brown, and the color is used as part of the design for restaurants. Light purple is the color most conducive to buying. An accent color of red at the back of a retail area contributes to drawing the consumer to the back and encourages the brain to spend.


It is important to incorporate all the sense into the design of a consumer location in both the retail and service areas. Tomorrow's retail world will have distinct smells. It won't be black and white, but in vivid color and will infuse your senses and leave you humming. This assault on your senses will be more effective in winning your mind, your loyalty, and your dollars than you ever thought possible. The road to emotion runs through our sensory experiences. And, emotion is one of the most powerful forces in driving what we buy.



Now you and your brain have a better understanding of why we buy—the hidden preferences, unconscious desires and irrational dreams. Thanks to nueroimaging, we can now understand better what really drives our behavior. 


Science and marketing have come together. Science is hard fact, and the final word. Marketers, on the other hand, have spent more than a century throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it will stick. 


Until recently, marketers and advertisers haven't really known what drives our behavior, so they've had to rely on luck or chance. But now we know that roughly 90 percent of our consumer buying behavior is unconscious, and the time has come for a paradigm shift. The design and strategic blueprint of our salons today and in the future must be around creating an experience for the consumer.


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